Friday, December 01, 2006

Thank you, Berea College

The subject of my convocation talk at Berea College was drawn from my book Climbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland's Holy Mountain. I started with the current tension between science and faith, which is probably greater than at any time since the late 19th century, and tried to show how a writer negotiates these troubled waters using the writer's craft.

Berea College is a remarkable institution, with a history of inclusiveness that goes back to pre-Civil War days when the school was the first in the South to educate blacks and white, women and men, together. It accepts only talented students of limited financial means, mainly from Appalachia. All students receive free tuition. Berea is probably the only college in America that turns away academically qualified students who can afford to pay. All students work to help defer room and board. The motto is: learning, labor and service.

Berea calls itself a Christian College, but as you can see from its statement of Christian identity, there is no reference to doctrine or dogma, only to what the college's founder called the "gospel of impartial love."

The science faculty gave me a gracious reception and a tour of their educational facilities and ongoing research; quite impressive for a school of only 1500 students. During the two days of my visit, I had a sense of a community at home in their intellectual skins, and expecting the best of the rest of us.